Saturday, March 31, 2018

War crimes

How can you walk by a grid of bones on a table and not read the story?

Last month we took a trip out of the Hudson Valley to MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Set on 16 acres of an urban section of North Adams, Massachusetts, the site’s 26 buildings are connected by elevated walkways and courtyards. The Hoosick River flows through the site which has an unmistakably industrial vibe. Since before the Revolutionary War, the area was instrumental in the manufacture of shoes, hats, cabinets, and armor plates for a Civil War ship and components for the atomic bomb in World War II. Manufacturing ended in 1986 and the site was transformed into a museum after staff of Williams College museum of Art sought an economic space to exhibit large works that would not fit in conventional museums. MASS MoCA opened in 1999.

Artist Jenny Holzer’s giant light projections, carved stone benches, and posters make up her campus-wide exhibit of words and messages. In the East Gallery Lustmord Table features arranged bones on a wooden table, a project rooted in the war in former Yugoslavia. Attached to some bones are metal bands engraved with words from sex crimes perpetrated against Muslim women and girls. In the 1990s, 20,000 to 50,000 women endured rape and forced pregnancy, events the Golden Gate University Law Review called “one of the most egregious orchestrated human rights violations against women in this century.” Lustmord is German for “sexually motivated murder.” The bones were sourced from decommissioned medical samples and teaching materials. 

Other works show an autopsy reports indicating torture of detainees killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and an image of a handprint from an Iraqi detainee who died in U.S. custody in 2003.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ice on the hudson

“One of the reasons there are so many terms for conditions of ice is that the mariners observing it were often trapped in it, and had nothing to do except look at it.” 

Alec WilkinsonThe Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration

One of the most striking places to see the effects of below-zero temperatures is on the Hudson River. Though jet skis and leisure boats are not in season, the river remains a year-round shipping route for petroleum products as well as a source of drinking water for over 100,000 Hudson Valley residents in communities such as Poughkeepsie, Highland and Rhinebeck.

When the Hudson freezes over the route is cleared by icebreaking boats. This past January the 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard Penobscot Bay icebreaking tug made it’s way from New Jersey to Albany. Can ram through ice up to 3 feet thick with the aid of a lubrication system that forces air and water between the boat’s hull and ice.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Myco tincture

What do you make with mushrooms and alcohol? A reishi mushroom tincture was the final product of Reishi & the Power of Medicinal Mushrooms, a workshop on February 16 at the Moon Infospace in Newburgh. Hosted by Rochester-based fungi cultivator Olga Tzogas of Smugtown Mushrooms, we learned about medicinal mushroom varieties, sources, preparation, as well as some fungi lore.

Medicinal mushrooms have been around for centuries and utilized by countries the world over. Olga presented a slideshow of photos and uses of common medicinal varieties. Tooth fungi is a strong antiflamatory which can rebuild nerves and treat crohn’s disease. Reishi is a liver detoxifier and improves oxygen utilization. Maitake regulates blood sugar and birch polypore can substitute for a bandage. Turkeytail, one of the most common and studied varieties, can expel dampness from lungs and help build muscle. Shitake improves circulation and offers protection from nitrates which are found in bacon.

Mushroom images appear in prehistoric rock paintings. A variety called amanita muscaria, commonly recognized as a red cap with white spots, takes many forms: from Christmas tree ornaments to an iconic role in Nintendo’s Mario franchise. Mushrooms appear in a fresco depicting Adam and Eve within 12th Century Plaincourault Abbey in France, as well as in Alice in Wonderland and the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.

Olga helped participants create tinctures using a simple pack-and-cover method. She brought her own farmed Reishi pieces which we broke up and packed into jars which were then filled with alcohol which both preserves and extracts material as it sits for 6-8 weeks. The next step in this “double extraction” process involves draining, adding water and simmering the solution into a viscous liquid that can be consumed in tea form.

Olga’s knowledge of mushrooms is vast: she talked about industries using mushrooms as a substitute for plastic in packing material and how they “create life from death” by breaking down dead and decaying plant matter on forest floors. Though they are superficially plant-like, mushrooms are actually genetically more similar to humans. Olga’s passion in the mushroom kingdom is for medicinals. Utilizing them as both food and medicine is not only a great way to take control of how we eat and treat illness, but restores a connection between food and medicine that we forgot or never learned.

Smugtown Mushrooms:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Readers place

If a 50 cent purchase keeps me occupied for at least a month I’d say that’s a good deal. My favorite spot to visit during my work lunch is a used bookstore next to Thrall Library in Middletown. Run entirely by volunteers, this shop isn’t a musty-smelling room overflowing with piles of auto manuals and copies upon copies of the classics. It’s organized by genres like travel, economics, law, gender issues, and more. I always see best-sellers, hot topics, and current magazines.

The store regularly accepts donations and a curated section of fun new arrivals sits on a shelf near the entrance. Prices range from .10 for National Geographic magazines to $1 for hardcovers. Magazines are .25 and softcovers go for .50. I picked up a biography: Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, about Suzuki who authored the modern spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The store next to Middletown Thrall Library which first opened in 1843 as a main station on the Erie Railroad.

Thrall Library Use Bookstore:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Power of the invisible

Standing on the shore of the ocean so many possibilities come to mind: swimming, fishing, shell collecting, boating. But there is a body even more vast and accessible than the sea: an ocean of air. The healing properties of sound were the focus of Sound Immersion, an interactive event at the Tibetan Center in Kingston on Saturday, January 20.

Facilitated by Paul Campbell, participants experienced how sound produces physical, spiritual, mental and emotional healing effects. With a gong as his primary instrument Paul performed with tuning forks, chimes, a shaman drum, Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, and other devices. The two big gongs are from China and one is over 100 years old. “The large one is from Wuhan, China, it’s well-seasoned and we are best friends, we collaborate,” said Paul. “The other is a Wind gong that has a more compact sustain and swifter sizzling crash. To add other sound variations we have a selection of mallets each inviting a different sound.” Also used was a Rav Vast, a metal hand drum from Russia which evolved from the Hang Drum that generates a sound that was popular in sci-fi movie soundtracks.  “I seek unusual clear sounds and go through entire selections to find the unique instrument in each one out of the lot,” said Paul, whose career is a fusion of Percussion, CranialSacral Balancing, Polarity Therapy, Tibetan Buddhism and Product Design.

At the beginning of the session Paul told participants they’ll likely experience sounds they’ve never heard before and instructed them to avoid trying to identify or make an association with them. The sound immersion isn’t a musical experience. There is no fixed rhythm for the brain to search for and follow, forcing it to relax. Instead of seeking entertainment, we instead allow for “entrainment,” or the changing of brainwave frequencies. The session took place in the Tibetan Center’s colorful art-filled community space and Paul pointed out a wall hanging depicting a central Om, the symbol for the familiar sound forged by the gong. Small “fractals” markings that are always moving in a spiral surround the symbol and emanate outwards.

Periods of intentional silence were included and participants were encouraged to embrace those the same as the more prominent sounds. Paul sounded bells to signal the start and end of the 1-1/2 hour period, similar to how a sound can be used to define a meditation session. The experience included a 10-minute silent break in the middle.

“The unique beautiful benefits of Sound are that everyone’s experience, during and after the session, feels totally unique to them. So real, so deep, so profound they cannot imagine anyone else’s experiences matching theirs,” said Paul. “Quieting the left brain is essential for an amazing sound trip. It can be challenging to let our left brains go. Its history fights the effort, they struggle, think harder, keep fixing until there is nothing for them to do like with immersion of sound that is not music or rhythm or has no beats to count and then Leftie says OK nothing here for me I'll veg out and Righty says Ahh now I am free to fly.....back to my youth, memories, good stuff.”

The fractals depicted in the room’s wall hanging radiate outwards in all directions without end, representing how the sound we experienced isn’t intended to end upon leaving the room at the end of the session, but it instead ripples out into the rest of life.

Tibetan Center:
More on sound gong baths:

Sunday, December 31, 2017


“The Barbarian hopes — and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers.... In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.

We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Watershed tour

What’s in our water and where does it come from? Answers to these questions and more were the focius of the illustrated at watershed tour in Newburgh on November 4. Led by Peter Smith of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, the goup of over 20 participants toured almost a dozen stops of the local watershed area. A watershed is a catchment area of land where precipitation collects and drains into a shared outlet such as a river or reservoir. The path, if not protected, makes water sources vulnerable to contamination. This area, which supplies the City of Newburgh’s water, is located in a heavily industrialized section of the neighboring Town of Newburgh and the City’s lack of ownership limits oversight.  

Tour stops included the large water source Washington Lake and a water gatehouse on Route 300 next to Adams Fairacre Farms. We toured an industrial site off Route 17K which feeds into Washington Lake, and followed it downstream to the wetlands near Hampton Inn and the NYS Thruway. The highway runs right through a wetland that drains into Patton Brook. Next was a section of Orr Avenue behind Cosimo’s restaurant, a marshy spot behind Wal-mart, and a hilltop view of Washington Lake adjacent to Route 300 which showed the road at its lowest point and its storm drains as they filter into the lake.

It was interesting to learn that though the wetland that encompasses our watershed area would have been sizeable enough to warrant protection if it hadn’t been broken into smaller areas by manmade boundaries like highways. Peter demonstrated each stop’s features in digestible language and helped everyone track the path water takes from the watershed to our kitchen faucet.

Newburgh Clean Water Project:
Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance: